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Trolling is a fishing technique that involves covering a wide area of water both vertically and horizontally, effectively making it one of the most versatile and potentially successful methods for catching a variety of fish. In fact, one can effectively use trolling to target fish from crappie, bass and walleye to trout, salmon and huge saltwater species such as tuna, sailfish, and marlin.
Because trolling is such an involved form of fishing (you’re not simply driving up to the shore of a lake and casting your bait), it’s considered one of the most preparation-intensive styles of angling. In fact, there are literally hundreds of different types of trolling gear all tailored to specific catches and fishing situations, so knowing which are most appropriate for your specific situation is the key.
This guide aims to simplify the choice process based on a variety of factors including environmental, preferential, and target specifications. With over 20,000 fishing items in our inventory, Outdoor Shopping has the most extensive lineup of fishing equipment online today! Shop our inventory of trolling rods, reels, and accessories at Outdoor Shopping.
Trolling Reels: Line Counters
There are hundreds of different models of trolling reels to choose from, and even the most experienced angler can find themselves confused when given the monumental task of choosing just one.
Line counter reels simplify the process of measuring the amount of line you’ve cast by doing the measuring work for you when the reel is released. This type of precision allows the angler or fisherman to replicate a cast to an exact measurement, improving one’s accuracy. Line counter reels come in both manual and electric versions and are a major addition to trolling reels.
Type of Line Counter
Records the number of revolutions made by the spool; Preset calibrations compensate for variations of spool diameter as the line is paid out, using 12-pound test line as the standard. These are low on maintenance and high on dependability, but they’re slightly less precise than electric counterparts.
More sophisticated and can be calibrated to the exact line you’re using. Inherently more accurate, but you’ll need to remember to replace the batteries. Similarly, the display screens can become easily damaged or have an electrical fault, which can be annoying when you’re already out on the water.
There are three main materials that can comprise the body of your line counter reel, and different materials will bring with it different benefits:
Lighter and cheaper but less durable than aluminum counterparts.
While not quite as strong as machined aluminum, it is slightly more durable than graphite but also carries a slightly higher pricetag.
Machined from a solid block of aluminum and are more rigid, holding bearings and gears in precise alignment, which reduces wear, prevents premature failure, and gives you more torque for besting a bruiser.
There are also many other features that are desirable when using a line counter reel:
Drag: Multi-disc drags help to improve the control you have over a fighting catch, allowing the user to operate the reel smoothly, even when the catch makes a strong run for it. Star drag adjustments are located to the side of the handle and are convenient for anglers.
Clicker:The role of the clicker is to give an audible sign that your line is paying out, so a loud clicker that can be heard over a boat engine or light conversation is necessary for line casting.
Dual Speed: This option is available on some reels and allows the user more versatility to adapt to a variety of situations.
Choosing the Right Line
While you’ll find that saltwater trolling runs a larger risk for stripping your spool of its line, having more than a small spool’s worth of working line even in freshwater conditions can help improve your angling experience. When choosing line for trolling, consider the following:
Target species: The fight of your fish can determine how much line you’re going to want to work with, as a fish that bites and takes off will likely need more line than one that can be reeled in easily.
Lure Choice and Depth: Any prescribed depth can alter the amount of line you need as well as what lure you’ll need to achieve said depth. So a combination of what lures you choose and the depth you want to reach will influence how much line you’re going to need on your spool.
Material Composition: There are three main types of lines to choose from when trolling:
Light strength but a thicker line, these lines tend to carry a cheaper price tag but can get the job done on small-medium catch loads.
Smaller diameter with less drag, braided lines have slightly more strength than monofilament counterparts.
Utilize an inner core of lead or other heavy metal that is surrounded by a braided shield. Larger diameters mean larger spool requirements for the same length of line.
While there may be hundreds of trolling reels to choose from, trolling rods tend to be an easier choice. There are three main categories of rods to choose from:
This basic type of trolling rod isn’t specifically designed for trolling extremes but can handle most trolling situations and catches.
Roller guides help prevent friction on the line when the rod is bent in a sharp arch, making it especially helpful for heavier, stronger-fighting fish.
With these rods, the line actually runs through the rod blank instead of external eyes, which eliminates all stress points and produces a smoothly arching bend.
When trolling, a majority of the species you’ll be targeting will prefer a fairly stiff rod locked in its holder (for withstanding the impact of a bite and run). More delicate species like crappie prefer a longer and more limber rod. Also, the additional flex of a longer rod cushions the impact of the strike and lessens the possibility of tearing the hook out. Thus, most anglers will use two longer rods and two shorter rods positioned at opposite ends of their boat to separate the lines.
In addition to rods, reels, and lines, you’ll also need to invest in accessories to make the most of your trolling experience. Here are a few to consider:
Downriggers: This method of trolling uses a manual or electric winch and weight (cannonball) to carry your fishing lines and lures to a specific depth, where feeding fish are to be found. While downrigging is commonly thought of as a deep water fishing technique, it is more accurately understood as a method of "controlled depth fishing"
Dodgers and Flashers: Flashers and dodgers are deadly fish attractors in both fresh and salt water and are rigged in the line between the lure and downrigger release, diver or lead to provide attraction and impart erratic action to trailing lures such as plugs, spoons, flies or plastic squids.
Divers: These help to get your lure down quickly to big fish. (pictured right)
Outriggers: These pieces of equipment are designed to get more lines in the water while spreading out bait so the lines don’t tangle easily. Choose from these three designs:
Wishbone: While heavier and harder to work with, wishbone mounts are longer and more spread.
Deck: With lines close to the water, deck mounts are easier to operate and cheaper to purchase although typically have a 2 line maximum. These are the most common on smaller boats (~20-28 feet long).
Side: Common on walkarounds and small boats (16 to 20 feet) that really don't have a deck area to attach the outriggers.
Plates and Stabilizers: These improve control and bring out the hidden peak performance of your boat.
Rod Holders: Holders securely fasten rods to the deck of your ship so that you can get more lines in the water without having to tend to each rod at all times.